Stephen Tapply Photography
Raindrops on roses

One of the joys of travelling abroad, whether it’s a two week all inclusive package or a two year independent trip, is that you get to see some amazing places. Go on an organised tour to India or China, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore famous monuments like the Taj Mahal or the Forbidden City. On my third visit to the former, I overheard a guide telling his group, “You have forty-five minutes for the main building, then we’ll meet up by the South Gate at three o’clock.” It was 2.15pm, and I’d already been in the grounds since 6.15 that morning, wandering around the different sections, watching the light change, taking photos and talking to locals.

So one of my favourite things about being a long-term traveller is not just that I’ve visited some incredible places, it’s that I also get to spend a lot more time at each of them. In 2009, I timed my fourth trip to Agra very carefully in relation to the lunar cycle – seeing the Taj from the rooftop of my hotel at 2am, steely blue under the light of the full moon, is just breathtaking. Instead of a one day pass to Angkor Wat, I bought a three day pass and a seven day pass. That way I could spend ten days cycling around the complex, giving myself enough time to thoroughly explore, to sit and absorb, to study in detail, to see the less well known and less visited buildings instead of just a cursory glance at the most important temples.

The significant sites I’ve been to read like a ‘best of World Heritage’ list. The Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Great Wall of China, Bagan in Myanmar, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Tikal in Guatemala, the Terracotta Army in Xi’an…

But I also love that I can plan long, leisurely routes taking two months or more, something that I’d never be able to contemplate if I was restricted by time. I explored some immaculate and detailed ninth and eleventh century Chola and Hoysala temples in South India over a three month period. I meandered for two months along the old Silk Road from Xi’an to Kashgar. The third time I trekked the Annapurna Circuit it was for ten weeks; most people take three. And I rode the Trans-Mongolian Express from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia, stopping off for a week or more at seven or eight different places en route. Altogether, it took me three months. Having almost unlimited time and no commitments or deadlines means that it’s possible to become quite blasé about days and dates. Several times in South East Asia, someone has asked me what day it was, and I told them it was Sunday. When it turned out that it wasn’t, they looked at me quizzically. “I’m sorry,” I’d say with a smile. “For me, every day is a Sunday.” Twice, when asked the date, I realised that I didn’t actually know which month it was...

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